The difference between Should and Must

This is a story about two roads. One of them, we take too often, and the other ought to be taken more often.

There are two paths in life: Should and Must. We arrive at this crossroads over and over again. And each time, we get to choose.

Over the past year I’ve chosen Must again and again. And it was petrifying. And at times it was dark. But I would never, ever, trade this past year for anything. This essay is my three biggest takeaways from the experience. It’s for anyone who is thinking of making the jump from Should to Must. Anyone looking to follow the energy deep within their chest but aren’t quite sure how.

Should is how others want us to show up in the world — how we’re supposed to think, what we ought to say, what we should or shouldn’t do. It’s the vast array of expectations that others layer upon us. When we choose Should the journey is smooth, the risk is small.

Must is different — there aren’t options and we don’t have a choice.

Must is who we are, what we believe, and what we do when we are alone with our truest, most authentic self. It’s our instincts, our cravings and longings, the things and places and ideas we burn for, the intuition that swells up from somewhere deep inside of us. Must is what happens when we stop conforming to other people’s ideals and start connecting to our own. Because when we choose Must, we are no longer looking for inspiration out there. Instead, we are listening to our calling from within, from some luminous, mysterious place.

Must is why Van Gogh painted his entire life without ever receiving public recognition. Must is why Mozart performed much of his work, even as the critics called it ugly. Must is why, in the early days, Airbnb sold boxes of cereal to make ends meet because no one would give them money and every conceivable metric said they should quit.

Well, it turns out that choosing Must is scary, hard, and a lot like jumping off a terrifyingly high cliff where you can’t see anything down below.

It was one year ago that I jumped off the first of many cliffs, straight out of undergrad. There were a million reasons this might not turn out to be a wise choice, but the path you carve isn’t filled with the decisions you ‘might’ve’ taken. It’s always about the decisions you must make.

I tried explaining this to cheery high-school kids. My Alma Mater still cannot handle presentations though.

If you believe that you have something special inside of you, and you feel it’s about time you gave it a shot, honor that calling in some small way — today.

If you feel a knot in your stomach because you can see the enormous distance between your dreams and your daily reality, do one thing to tighten your grip on what you want — today.

If you’ve been peering out over the edge of the cliff but can’t quite make the leap, dig a little deeper and find out what’s stopping you — today.

Because there is a recurring choice in life, and it occurs at the intersection of two roads. We arrive at this place again and again. And today, you get to choose.

See you on the other side.

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